As is often the case, it is not the crime that gets you in trouble, it's the coverup. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly may be about to learn that the hard way. During a staff meeting yesterday, Kelly told the attendees that he took action as soon as he learned of accusations that staffer Rob Porter had beaten both of his ex-wives. Actually, that is a baldfaced lie. Kelly learned of the accusations months ago and also knew that the FBI was going to recommend that Porter be denied a permanent security clearance, which would disqualify him for his job. On Tuesday, Kelly said: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him." On Wednesday, after seeing the photo of Porter's first wife with a black eye, Kelly continued to support him and asked him to stay on the job. Wednesday afternoon, with pressure mounting, Porter said that all the allegations were false and that he was innocent, but he quit anyway. At that point, Kelly began claiming that he was the one who swung the ax.
Kelly was hired to keep things calm in the White House, but now he is the center of the storm himself. Donald Trump doesn't like people who attract negative publicity, and that is what Kelly is doing right now. On the other hand, Trump doesn't seem to think that treating women badly is such a big deal. In fact, he praised Porter yesterday and wished him well. So he may not take any action against Kelly despite the bad publicity. Or maybe he will (see below). (V)
ABC News is reporting that Donald Trump is considering several people as possible replacements for his embattled chief of staff, John Kelly. These include Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn (who is apparently out of the doghouse after his post-Charlottesville remarks), Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, and House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). The first two have some experience running government organizations, but Meadows is mostly noted for his ideological rigidity and not his management skills. In kindergarten, he probably did not score well on the "works well with others" item. McClatchy is reporting that Mulvaney is the most likely candidate if Kelly has to go, because Trump likes the way Mulvaney appears on television. If Mulvaney also keeps his jobs as head of OMB and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he will begin to rival first son-in-law Jared Kushner for the administration official with the most on his plate. But so far, Kelly has not resigned and Trump has not fired him.
Another staffer whose head may be on the chopping block is Communications Director Hope Hicks, Porter's current girlfriend. Trump is dismayed how Portergate has been handled, and blames Hicks in part. He feels her judgment has been clouded by her romantic involvement with Porter. Nevertheless, she is one of his closest confidants, so she is more likely to survive than Kelly. But when Trump is angry, as he is now, anything can happen. (V)
David Sorensen is a speechwriter for Donald Trump. Or, he was until Friday, when he was compelled to resign after the Washington Post talked to his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett. She said Sorensen, "ran a car over her foot, put out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall and grasped her menacingly by her hair while they were alone on their boat in remote waters off Maine's coast, an incident she said left her fearing for her life." Axios confirmed the story and even got an audio recording from Corbett backing her allegations.
Despite resigning, Sorensen insists he's innocent, and that his ex-wife was actually the abusive one. He's threatening to hire a lawyer, and sue for defamation, and yada, yada, yada. The odds that Sorensen or Porter is being falsely accused are very low, and the odds that they are both innocent are just about zero. Which means that either the Trump administration is doing a very poor job of vetting people, or they don't much care about domestic violence, or both. (Z)
Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand is reportedly leaving her job at the Justice Dept. And unlike Porter and Sorensen, she hasn't been accused of beating up a spouse. Early in the day Friday, her departure was a "maybe," but by the evening all the major news outlets were saying it is a done deal. Apparently, she's taking a job as executive vice president of Wal-Mart, so she'll be working for the same people as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and John Boozman (R-AR).
Brand's departure could have major implications for the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller as Brand is #3 in the Justice Dept. hierarchy. She is believed to have considerable integrity and would have probably refused to carry out an order to fire Mueller. With her departure, Trump can replace her with someone who takes orders from him. Then he could fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and let the new Associate AG take over the supervision of Mueller. The new AAG could either fire Mueller outright or, more likely, impede his investigation in numerous ways (such as refusing to sign off on subpoenas), so as to prevent a media firestorm. Of course, if Brand had been given the order to fire Mueller and declined, she herself would have been fired (or compelled to resign). Her departure may thus be pre-emptive if she has read the writing on the wall, and has decided that she's likely to be out of work soon anyhow. (V & Z)
Friday morning, Donald Trump said he was willing to release a redacted copy of the memo Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wrote rebutting much of the now-infamous Nunes memo. Schiff is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and has had access to all the underlying documents related to FISA Court warrants for wiretapping Carter Page. Schiff has argued strenuously that Nunes' memo cherry picked facts and is very misleading.
The fact that the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Schiff memo put the President in quite a pickle. If he does not release, or he aggressively redacts, then it looks hyperpartisan and it also looks like he has something to hide. If Trump does release, then it weakens his case that Russiagate is a witch hunt, and it is also likely to make Nunes, a major Trump cheerleader, look highly partisan. Given this dilemma, it's not a major surprise that Trump cannot commit to a course of action, and that he thus changed his tune on Friday night and sent the memo back to the Intelligence Committee for "editing." So, the ball is back in their court, and the President is undoubtedly (and probably vainly) hoping they do not return volley.
One of the lawyers who worked in George W. Bush's White House, Jamil Jaffer, called Trump's move a massive strategic miscalculation. Jaffer went on to say Trump's willingness to declassify Nunes' memo but not Schiff's memo looks like a double standard, especially in light of the House Intelligence Committee's unanimous vote to release it. (V & Z)
The Federal Reserve is supposed to have seven governors. At the moment, thanks to folks reaching the ends of their terms, along with the unceremonious dumping of Janet Yellen, it's down to three. That's not even the legal minimum of four needed for them to conduct business. Donald Trump has nominated conservative economist Marvin Goodfriend to be the fourth, but his nomination is running into some strong headwinds.
Trump's first problem is that Goodfriend has attracted no Democratic support, not even from the conservative Democrats, such as Jon Tester (D-MT), who often support the President's nominees. The second problem is that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a firm no, because he does not like Goodfriend's ideas about monetary policy, Mike Lee (R-UT) is a possible no, and John McCain (R-AZ) is in Arizona recuperating. Trump will need not only Lee's vote, but he will have to find one other, or the nomination is kaput.
Outside of hard-core libertarians, for whom the Federal Reserve is as hated as abortion is for evangelicals, most Americans are only dimly aware of the Fed and what it does. However, if Trump—between his slow pace of nominations, and his tendency to pick unpalatable nominees—leaves the country without a properly functioning central bank in a time of great volatility, it could certainly blow up in his face. After all, the Federal Reserve is arguably the most important tool we have for smoothing out the bumps in the road caused by stock market ups and downs. And as you may have heard, the market had a few of those this week. (Z)
Although most of the recent announcements from House members about retirement have come from Republicans, some Democrats are also calling it quits. In particular, Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN), who is 74, announced yesterday that this will be his last term. Nolan said: "Now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation." His district has a PVI of R+4, so Democrats will have to fight to hold his seat. The Republicans already have their candidate lined up: Pete Stauber, a retired police officer. The Democrats don't have a candidate to replace Nolan yet, but both parties expect the race to be bitter and very expensive. (V)
It's Black History Month right now, and the Winter Olympics also just started. As it turns out, both occasions are affording excellent opportunities to stir Donald Trump's base up into a frenzy, not unlike when NFL players kneel during the national anthem. Leading the way are Breitbart and Fox News, affording everyone a reminder of how base tribalism has always been one of their keys to success.
Starting with Breitbart, where Black History Month is roughly as popular as Tax Day, there is an ongoing tizzy over the efforts of the Black Lives Matter at School Coalition, which has a weeklong curriculum designed to encourage tolerance and black pride. Not exactly out of place for Black Lives Matter, but enough to leave Breitbart sputtering that, "Black Lives Matter Infiltrates Public Schools with Globalism, Diversity, 'Queer-Affirming,' Common Core." The rage and derision being expressed in the comments section is a sight to behold.
Meanwhile, Team USA brought 242 people to the Olympics, 10 of them black (4.1%) and two of them openly gay (0.8%). Both of those percentages are considerably lower than among the general public, but that did not stop Fox News editor John Moody from declaring, in an editorial (since scrubbed from Fox's site), that the U.S. Olympic Committee is plotting for a "Darker, Gayer, Different" Olympic games. This is not a first for Moody; he initially came to national attention 10 years ago, when he published a false story that a black man had attacked a white woman, carved a 'B' into her face, and ordered her to vote for Barack Obama at risk of being killed. In other words, this week's editorial was just keeping Moody's race-baiting skills in practice.
These stories are not that unusual for those two sites, though they are a bit on the "over the top" side for them. In any event, it's a useful reminder that when Donald Trump attacks "ungrateful" NFL players, or downplays white supremacist violence at Charlottesville, or slurs Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as Pocahontas, he most certainly does have his finger on the pulse of a sizable segment of the American public. (Z)